John M. O’Connor Forbes Councils Member
John M. O’Connor (Career Pro Inc.) is a multi-year career coach, outplacement and career services leader based in North Carolina.
“The last thing you are going to get me to do is write an article, do writing exercises or create something out of nothing. I am a finance person. This is not what I do.”
These are close to the words my executive financial leader said to me when I challenged him to start writing his first article. After about sixty days of mixed results doing job interviews, he decided to change his tune. In a lull between interviews, he brought me a printed-out theme. It reminded me of a composition paper I had to grade as a graduate assistant in creative writing. He shrugged his shoulders as he handed it to me and said, “Okay, you broke me down. I have about a thousand words. This is more writing than I have done since college like twenty-five years ago. And you made me do it!”
“I can’t believe you did this,” I said. I took a glance at the paper and read a few lines. “This looks good.” He smiled, proud of the work he submitted — something like the proud look of a young undergraduate student.
Let me fast-forward. After edits, a couple of rewrites and some editing changes, I helped him create three articles out of this one piece. To close out his last and final interview for a $150,000-plus role, he was asked this on the interview: “Is there anything else you would like the committee to see before we end our session?” He said, “Yes, I have an article that I wrote that may give you some ideas about me and how I lead in this area.” After receiving and negotiating a generous offer days later, he told me, “The committee thought it was a clear differentiator for me and probably sent my candidacy over the edge.
Writing and publishing articles and creating collateral or content doesn’t guarantee you get hired, but it can influence others, and in this day of near over-information, why not work to add your voice to the content that’s out there? It may make a difference for you when someone hiring sees that you have created value, written something original, created a podcast or contributed to some digital forum. Set yourself apart from others. Create valuable thoughts and content that drive home messages of excellence and leadership, and write from your own perspective. I think it helps to have writers around you and editors and friends who will ensure you create value and that you are not creating content for content’s sake. Be original and get out of your professional comfort zone.
I have been advocating this for years, long before the LinkedIn article feature displayed and long before the new content machines like podcasting arrived as numerous as they are today. In my early career world at Bowling Green State University, as a graduate student in creative writing, I learned about the importance of publishing or perishing. To build up your career in the university system anywhere, you needed to add content. It was as simple as that, and I took that into my coaching career many years ago.
Before blasting out your first article or creating anything, I think it helps to start with prompts to achieve your writing or content goals. It’s a little like music artists who first compose on a piano. Writing to me is where your ideas can first pour out. Capture them by recording your voice then copying the words, using speech recognition software or these three prompts that will help you form your voice and capture ideas that you can make into talks, guides and baselines for articles, videos, podcasts and more.
Try out these one-, five- or ten-minute exercises to get your creative blood flowing and start your path to a new career perspective.
Prompt 1 – How would I advise my younger self to anticipate and handle career adversity?
Prompt 2 – What would I do if I had to start over in my career right now and could not do what I am doing now?
Prompt 3 – You have been dropped into chaos in your next job. You have only these words to help out a nearly impossible situation. Write down as many questions as you can in 10 minutes that will help those involved solve the problems and find a way out.
Prompt 4 – You must advise a person with special needs in very elemental steps on how to perform a simple role at your last job. What are the steps that will help this person do the job you need done? You have 10 minutes.
Prompt 5 – What are the kindest things others have said about your work in the last year? Write them down, and share how you felt and how these words inspire you today or make a difference for you.
Prompt 6 – What impact do you hope to make on others as you go forward in the next five years in your career?
Prompt 7 – How would you like others to see you and your impact five years from now?
In just about every coaching situation I am in, I try to use or weave in prompts so I can help careerists create perspective. Often people comment to me that either they have never been asked these questions or they have never been challenged to develop their leadership voice in this way. For some, the feedback helps me coach them and understand who they are and that’s it. For others, it spawns articles, books, speaking engagement ideas and more.
It really doesn’t matter so much to me if you “cash in” these ideas or get an immediate result. It does matter that you gain a new perspective and new insights and break down barriers to communication. Putting yourself through the pain sometimes of getting creative, writing, reviewing content and pushing yourself to drive your imagination may hold untold benefits for you and your career.
John M. O’Connor (Career Pro Inc.) is a multi-year career coach, outplacement and career services leader based in North Carolina. Read John M. O’Connor’s full executive profile here